The Growl of November
Is it more like Summer or is it more like Winter?
That is the question that I like to ask when heading out in November. It really makes a difference in what my target and tactics are going to be for the day. November can be impossible to predict in the Florida Keys. Some years the Witch of November comes early “Apologies to the Edmond Fitz Gerald Song” but it is true, some years November feels more like January and your fishing tactics will be more attuned to fishing in winter. The North winds that accompany a cold front will blow baitfish out over the reef
and fire up the patch reef action as well as the near reef offshore fishing.
There are many years that Summer like conditions just will not relinquish their hold on the keys. Even into the late part of December we can enjoy water temps in the eighties and the offshore fishing will follow summer patterns. Without a north wind to move the bait out over the reef line the fish will not concentrate just outside the reef but will be scattered out to the wall and beyond.
Of course during a cold front, you are usually best advised to stay safe and sound on shore and wait until the front has safely past before venturing out to fish. Some of these fronts have been known to move deceptively fast. I recall one front that was located just above Naples when I pushed off of the dock for a half day of offshore fishing. Believing that I would have plenty of time to get out for a four-hour trip and back safely I left the dock and headed out to about five hundred feet of water. When I slowed to deploy my lines I looked back to see the advancing front just passing the shoreline. I was subsequently battered by one of the worst non tropical storms to pass through the Keys in decades. The waves were only about six feet in height, however the wavelength was so short that it felt like the boat was repeatedly being dropped those six feet even crawling along at two to three miles an hour.
It took every bit of my thirty years of boating experience to get the boat back to shore safely. I just left the lines out and kept inching in through the pounding waves until finally through the storm. By that time, I had made it back to about midway over the reef. Oddly enough, when I could pay attention to what was behind me instead of what was in front of me, I realized that we were dragging two exhausted king mackerel on two of the four deployed lines. When I took inventory of the condition of the boat I realized just how close we had come to becoming a statistic. The sides of the boat had torn away from decking in two places. We had shipped so much water into the fuel tanks through the vents that all four fuel water separators had overflowed, and we were sputtering in on contaminated gas. The wind shield had shattered. Finally, the hydraulic steering had been agitated so severely that there was air in the steering system and steering was next to useless.
By the time that we made it back to the dock the front had passed Cuba and had dissipated. The forward speed of the front had been approximately fifty miles an hour, with wind speeds during the storm of over seventy. The days after a front passes usually promises active fishing, but please wait until the conditions are safe enough for your vessel.
The primary bait that is blown out over the reef is ballyhoo. These are what the gamefish are going to focus on and what I recommend that you offer them. Whether fishing the patch reef with ballyhoo plugs on the bottom or deploying live ballyhoo on a trace of wire on the surface they will be assured to get attention. If traveling out over the reef line you can always troll rigged ballyhoo, but for the truly spectacular action you should slow troll or drift your live offering both on the surface and suspended down on a down rigger.
For the other extreme of November, we sometimes find that Summer simply will not release her grip. Not to worry there are plenty of things to target then too. I love to fish the gulf side of the Keys when the weather is nice. Fishing for snapper in the channels and along the outer edges of the Keys where the flats dump into the deeper water. Guess what? The fish here also love to eat ballyhoo. And until the bait is driven through the Keys there will be plenty back here also. There are also trout showing in the Gulf side. Look for mullet muds to find where the fish are best concentrated.
The flats will continue to produce plenty of bonefish, permit, and baby tarpon until the water gets too cold after a cold front. These fish will soon return to the flats as soon as the water warms. The best target when the water is cold on the flats are the Barracuda. These guys are more than willing to slash a tube lure or surface plug as long as you can retrieve it as super human speeds.
If you are so inclined you can still slip into the water and find a few lobster to bring home before they feel the first signs of cold and head for deeper haven on the south side of the Keys.
I do wish that I could predict what kind of conditions that November will bring but until I can figure that one out, my fishing ADD will keep me ready for anything.
Capt. John Sahagian
Offshore and backcountry fishing in the Lower Keys, Capt. John fishes out of Little Torch Key. Catch up with him at 305-872-3407 or on the web at fishingthefloridakeys.com
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